The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has allowed a union representing municipality workers to intervene in a longstanding Clean Water Act (CWA) enforcement action against their employer, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. United States v. City of Detroit, Nos. 11-2517/2569 (6th Cir. 4/8/13).

Seeking to resolve the enforcement action, “which for over 30 years has been unable to achieve sustained compliance with the [CWA],” a federal district court adopted a settlement that included a plan to reorganize the city’s water department. Council 25 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees objected to the reorganization plan and moved to intervene, alleging that the reorganization changed the union’s collective bargaining rights and violated the U.S. Constitution. The district court denied the motion to intervene, finding it untimely.

The Sixth Circuit agreed that lack of timeliness raised “substantial grounds” to deny intervention, but held that, in light of the 30-year course of the litigation, the added time required would not be “particularly important.” The Sixth Circuit held that the union should have a right to limited intervention to challenge orders that allegedly impaired their collective bargaining rights. A dissenting judge agreed that the union should be granted limited intervention, but disapproved “vague, ambiguous and ill-advised” instructions on how to conduct the intervention proceedings.